The reputation of politicians has fallen far since the days of the Founding Fathers. Those scholars and Renaissance Men would never make it in the age of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. Indeed, the state of American politics today — and I'm not just talking about the acts of stupidity by our elected officials, but their sexual misdeeds and ideological stridency as well— now fuels hours of late-night comedy each week to entertain the American public.
Of course, we Americans have always laughed at our leaders. That's half the fun of living in a free society. But our leaders never seemed more deserving of such derision than today.
That's why it was so refreshing to welcome a new face into the Charleston City Council race last week. Andy Brack is not just an honest fellow and a decent family man. He's smart. Let me say that again with emphasis. Andy Brack is very smart.
I spoke with Brack last week and found him bubbling with ideas for his first term on city council. Among them was greater accountability at City Hall. That would include having council meetings web cast or cable cast and posting city spending records online.
"I think it is important that people understand what their city is doing," he said.
And he wants greater long-range planning. "Charleston would not be the place it is today if it had not made some good decisions over the last 30 years," he said. "But where will we be in 2050?"
He points to Chicago, which is planning and building infrastructure in anticipation of a warmer world to come.
Brack comes out of a journalism background, but unlike most journalists I know, he was smart enough to move on. After a stint with the old News and Courier, he served as Sen. Fritz Hollings' press liaison. In 2000 he ran against Henry Brown for the 1st District congressional seat being vacated by Arthur Ravenel. It still makes me want to cry to think that we could have actually had Andy Brack speaking for us in Washington instead of the empty suit that filled that seat for 10 years. But the white people of the 1st District voted for the GOPer, and the outcome was predictable.
U.S. Sen. Roman Hruska once famously declared that not everybody could be excellent at his job, and that was all right. Didn't mediocrity deserve some representation, too? It's a dubious contention, but if it's true, I assert that the good people of the 1st District deserved better — much better — than Henry Brown. We could have had Andy Brack.
After his first dive into politics, Brack withdrew and has spent the last 11 years starting a family and creating several businesses, including the Brack Group, a PR and political consulting company, and Statehouse Report, an online weekly analysis of what is happening in Columbia and around the state. He is president and chairman of the Center for a Better South, which advises Southern leaders on tax reform, education, energy policy, and other matters. In that capacity he has published an important little book, Doing Better: Progressive Tax Reform for the American South.
Brack will be facing first-term incumbent Tim Mallard. Mallard has made headlines for his ugly confrontations with Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and outbursts against fellow council members and city staff. Mallard's conduct has been so vituperative that one council member introduced an ordinance to enforce "rules of behavior" for council members. The city legal department quickly dismissed the proposed ordinance as unconstitutional, but it does reflect the stress Mallard has placed his colleagues under.
Of course, when Mallard blows up at the mayor or one of his fellow council members, they are free to tell him to go screw himself. When he berates a city staffer, that smacks of bullying.
Diversity and disagreement can be good for a deliberative body, especially one led by a mayor who has been in place for 36 years. And Mallard has said at least one thing that I can agree with: "[T]he city council, except for a few exceptions, is simply just potted plants."
This is true. There are people on council who do little more than show up and fill a chair. Andy Brack will not be one of them. He will come to council with ideas and energy and a deep understanding of how government works and what it can do to make Charleston a better place to live.
It's almost enough to make me want to pack up and move to James Island just to vote for the guy. Instead, I will urge the good folks of the 11th District to vote for him in November. He will be an excellent city councilman. And the 11th District deserves that.